At around ten past noon, Ella heard the familiar tinkling of the door chime, indicating that a patient just opened the door of the OB clinic that she is volunteering in. She was inside the clinical room with Doctor Linda, prepping a patient for a Depo injection, when Pauline, the clinic nurse, came knocking on the frame outside the curtain that blocks them from the world.
“Do you still have time for one consultation, Doc? I have here a walk-in patient, but she just wants to have a prescription for birth control or something.”
“Sure, sure, Pauline, let her wait for two seconds and I’m almost done anyway.”
“Oh, Pauline, can I do the history taking, please? I just want to interview as many people as possible,” Ella hollered.
“Sure, Daaah-ling, always a pleasure if you are going to work for me while I am the one who’s getting paid, haha.”
“I heard that, Pauline!” Doctor Linda chuckled.
For Ella, it was just an ordinary day working-slash-helping out her Dear Auntie Linda in the clinic. She is really nervous as the second year of her nursing education is upcoming so to alleviate her anxiety, her 55-year-old aunt, who is an OB-Gyne consultant, gave her permission to work in the clinic during her summer break for some extra exposure.
As for now, Ella is just an assistant to Doctor Linda’s regular nurse named Pauline, who is more or less the same age as Linda. For ten years, she has been the eyes, nose, ears, and limbs of the doctor. They even look so alike, both of their hair in an aristocratic fluffed-up bob, like the modern Golden Girls of 2019.
Pauline can be a sweetheart, but she is also a pain in terms of punctuality. And since she knows that Ella is here for the summer break, she is more inspired to be slow at waking up for work.
“Don’t mind my misfits of assistants,” Linda said to the patient on the bed named Mrs. Byrne. She smiled back and said, “I won’t mind staying here longer just to listen to you guys all day long. But this bum doesn’t want to stay exposed this way or else it will get the flu,” the patient said while wiggling her hips. All this time, she was lying on the bed with her underpants halfway down, waiting for the injection to come any minute now.
“Oh, sorry!” the doctor turned pink, while Ella chuckled and handed her some plasters. Since she knows that it would take a while for them to finish up as Linda is chatty as hell, she straightened her blue clinical tunic on her slender figure, fixed her ponytailed, shoulder-length, leather black hair, and excused herself towards the reception to meet the next client.
The clinic is located inside the innermost part of the building and it is the middle of summer, but the new female client is covered in a thick sweater. With her auburn hair in a messy bun, she is wearing dark sunglasses inside a dimly lighted reception room, and Ella just thought, ‘I could never understand human beings and their fashion sense sometimes.’
The patient’s partner (or so Ella thought) is not looking great in the hygiene section either. He has this scruffy-in-a-bad-boy-sort-of-way demeanor about him, wearing a T-shirt (at least he knows how to dress properly for the weather), shorts, a cap, and is emitting an aura of boredom and annoyance. The woman, however, seems like she is cold, hugging her arms in a protective manner like she doesn’t want any sort of interaction with the world.
“Hi, my name is Ella!” she chirped rather too brightly which startled the woman, that she literally jumped a couple of centimeters off her seat upon hearing Ella’s voice.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!”
‘Great, Ella,’ she thought. ‘Memo to myself: not too perky next time.’
The woman glanced at her partner (maybe), then seemed to mumble something that is inaudible.
“I beg your pardon, Miss?”
The man blew an exasperated breath. The girl attempted to stand up but the man pulled her back to her chair.
‘Huh. That is weird.’ Ella thought. She looked at the non-verbal actions of these two: the girl trembling, the man too overpowering, and her intuition is just tingling with the notion that this man is causing the lady one thing: fear.
Ella is feeling uneasy, and her body is responding. She could feel a sudden cold sweat coming up on her forehead as wild assumptions began to surface inside her mind. The man is now meeting her gaze, and there is an intense coldness in those dark-brown eyes. She feigned a poker face. Turned her attention to the lady.
“I understand you are here for prescriptions for birth control, yes?”
‘The woman has a voice, thank God’ Ella thought.
“Can I have your name please?”
“Do you have a record here, Mika?”
The burly man then leaned over and in his deep and annoyed voice said, “No, she doesn’t, and we are really in a hurry as it is already lunchtime. I know we came here on late notice but we were looking at catching the next train to Dublin which is 15 minutes from now. I would appreciate it if we can just get the prescription for the pills. It would not take more than two minutes, wouldn’t it?”
She could feel the tension between them like a palpable, vibrating pulse striking the air, and all she could say is, “Of course, I shall do my best, Sir.”
‘Damn, I hate him already,’ she thought. Which makes her more adamant that something is definitely not right here. And she is suddenly fired up with the intense desire to know what it is.
“I will see if Doctor Linda is already finished with her previous client,”
“They were there for almost 20 minutes now,” the man-who-has-no-name huffed.
“I know, which is why I will let them know about your situation that you are in a rush.”
“Ah, fuck this, we are leaving,” the man stood up. The girl involuntarily held on to her seat.
The man pulled the girl’s hand for her to stand up as well and as Mika hesitated, Ella’s panic began to manifest and she suddenly screamed, “Oh, will you just stop?”
Why she reacted like that, Ella had no idea, but she suddenly felt everyone’s eyes on her as an awkward silence filled the room.
Ella exhaled and with a calm demeanor said, “Please don’t go. I’ll get you the prescription right now, I promise.”
Suddenly, Pauline came into the reception desk, humming, just happy in her own little bubble of thoughts.
“Is everything alright?” Pauline said. She looked at Ella. She must have gone to a pale color as Pauline was staring at her far longer than necessary, and she stammered, “Yes, of course. I just have to go to the clinic room, give me two seconds! Just. Please don’t go, you guys.”
“Okay,” the man surprisingly said and relief flooded through her as she ran to Doctor Linda’s consultation room.
‘I need a plan, quick. There is going to happen if I won’t stop them.’ Ella thought.
“Auntie, you have to help me, I think I am going mad but, we need to help this woman outside.”
“You have gone pale, my dear?” the doctor said, holding a hand over her forehead, she said, “You don’t look well!”
“The client outside?” Ella stammered, brushing Linda’s hand out of her head, not knowing how to speak, “I think the woman is a victim of domestic violence.”
“Are you sure?” Linda began walking towards the door, but Ella pulled her back in.
“I don’t know for sure, but she is wearing sunglasses and she is covered in long sleeve clothes, and she seems in distress. She is jumpy. She is not even talking much, but her boyfriend (I assume) is in a rush and I just felt this terrible feeling in my gut that something is just not right. I know I don’t make sense, Auntie Linda, but you have to trust me on this.”
“Well, I don’t know, Ella, I just don’t jump into conclusions just because of a client’s fashion sense but if we could get something like a shred of concrete evidence, then we can certainly do something. We have to do something.”
“The man is also very impatient and threatened that they are leaving in 15 minutes, but what if something happens to the woman the minute they leave?”
“Oh, dear is it dangerous to go outside??” Mrs. Byrne piped in, who we have forgotten all along once again and has been listening quietly at the back. “He could be armed you know! And always trust your gut instincts you know?”
“Well, let me go out then and see them for myself,” Doctor Linda said.
“No, you stay here. It would look suspicious if you, the doctor, would come out to meet them for just a prescription. I think I have a plan,” Ella said. She took a piece of paper, wrote something on it, then went out mouthing ‘Wish me luck.’
She came out with a bright smile on her face, and wishing things will go according to plan.
“So, uhm, Mika, can you come here please at the desk and I just want you to sign some papers for me. Doctor Linda is as of this time writing the prescription, so I’ll just go inside in two minutes and get that for you.”
Mika hesitated. Looked back at the man. He seemed satisfied but is still looking a bit suspicious.
Pauline seemed lost but is quick-witted enough to know that she needs to do something as a diversion. This has never happened before, as Doctor Linda would always see the patient first before prescribing something for them.
“Are you okay with tea or coffee, sir? I bet you are hungry, eh?” Pauline chimed in, clearly trying to distract the man. The lady stood up slowly as Pauline brushed past her and bustling around with cups and biscuits at the counter near the door, chatting away at the man, asking him questions and making small talk.
Ella waited at the counter for Mika to reach her. She kept her head down, shoulders slouched, she looked like a terrified puppy that has experienced torture and abuse.
When she placed her hands on the forms waiting for her, Ella saw a bruised wrist, which Mika immediately covered up with her sleeves. At this point, Ella thought, it is now or never. She then nonchalantly slipped a piece of paper in front of Mika, making sure that the movement is fluid and not noticed by the man at the back.
Mika took a few seconds reading what was on the paper, then looked up to her for the first time.
On the paper, Ella wrote: “Cough three times if you are dealing with abuse. We can help you.”
Mika rubbed her nose.
For a few seconds, she didn’t do anything. She then took a pen from the pen holder and went on to sign the forms.
Ella was holding her breath, waiting for her to do something. Pauline was able to fuss over the man, calling him too much dahhh-ling than the usual, and the man seemed distracted enough to give them a bit of privacy.
Suddenly, Mika dropped her pen. “Sorry,” she mumbled in a raspy voice, then stooped down to pick it up.
And then she coughed. Three times. Then she nodded at Ella, said thank you, before limping to her seat.
The shock from that small piece of proof that her hunch was correct was making is hard for Ella to breath, but she tried her best to keep her cool. ‘I couldn’t believe it. Now what. Think, Ella, think!’
Keeping a straight face, she announced casually, “Let me check if the prescription is ready, okay folks?”
She flew inside, knowing that time is running out for this woman. The man gave her a glance but the door closed in behind her.
Doctor Linda is inside, waiting for any results. Ella gave her the slip of paper.
“Well, did she cough?” Mrs. Byrne said, laughing nervously, who was also looking at the paper behind Linda’s shoulders.
“She did, oh my God, I don’t know, what shall we do!” she finally croaked, feeling the panic rising in her in a growing crescendo.
“Calm down, woman,” Doctor Linda said, and she walked away towards her desk, picked up the phone and motioned for them to wait.
Suddenly, someone was knocking on the door rather urgently. Pauline stuck her head in, and said, “That guy is already leaving! And Mika is going with him!”
Doctor Linda immediately dropped the call and then said, “We need to stall and make time until the cops come in. I rang the security of this building just to alert them of our situation, but he told me he has to call for a bloody back-up. We don’t know if this man is armed or not. I also need to keep her in here as she could be used for a possible hostage crisis. Tell her I need to see her first. Oh, wait, let me go out and see them. You stay here and stay away from the door.”
Linda went out. Pauline suddenly said, “I initially thought something was wrong too, but I was just thinking it could be a misjudgment on my part. She is abused, isn’t she?”
Ella had totally forgotten that Pauline was clueless about the situation, and she told her that Mika indirectly said yes when she did what she wrote on the paper.
“Oh dear, can we have him arrested here? I hope he has no gun with him!” Pauline exclaimed.
Outside, they could hear Doctor Linda greeting them. A few mumbled dialogues were exchanged. The man’s voice came up, and clearly agitated. A bit more muffled voices. The next thing they know, the door opened, and in came Doctor Linda, Mika, and the man, with them.
Pauline held up a hand and said “Sir, I’m afraid I must ask you to stay outside first to give the patient some privacy while she is being consulted – ”
“I don’t fucking care,” the man growled.
“It’s fine, Pauline, he insisted to come in, and I said yes. Thanks for coming, Mrs. Byrne, I shall see you soon, okay?” Doctor Linda shook Mrs. Byrne’s hand, and the poor woman choked on her reply which came out as a whimper and she hurried out the door.
“Now Ella, can you prepare Miss Mika on the examination bed, please. I believe I need to get a swab off of her. I told this gentleman here that since I already have Mika’s details, address and phone number and all, it is easy for me to follow-up on them and make a courtesy call tomorrow to where they lived. It is my duty to do such things, unfortunately, and contact her for a free cervical test. But Mika is adamant that I shouldn’t visit them so since she is already here, I am taking the test now. ” She looked at the man and said. “It won’t take long, love. It’s just government protocol.”
Ella immediately took Mika’s hands, led her to have her seated on the examination bed, and closed the curtains behind them. She waited for the doctor to come in.
‘That was such a lame excuse, Auntie,’ Ella thought. ‘Government protocol, ha!’
But it worked anyway. Old ladies like her certainly have their charm and finesse with words, so what the hell. The man is stupid after all.
Mika started crying as she took off her sunglasses, and Ella was doing her best to shush her as quietly as possible.
Her eyes were black and blue. Bloodshot and puffy and full or terror. She then whispered, “I am in terrible pain right now, like everywhere,” she burst out crying, tears streaming down her face and she furiously wiped them with her sweater sleeves. “He raped me multiple times and forced me to do bondage and extreme sexual practices. I resisted and he beats me until I lose consciousness.”
“God, I’m so scared,” she kept on looking behind Ella’s shoulders as if expecting the man to attack them. Ella kept on shushing her, terrified that the man would hear the crying.
“He broke me.” as her hands trembled and her tears flowed out like rivers, Ella felt her heart crying for this woman. One can only imagine the suffering and the trauma that she had endured, that even the act of breathing seems to be painful for her.
“Mika. I am glad you trusted me with this information,” she took a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Outside, they could hear the doctor and the man talking inanimately. Time seemed to have slowed down where they are and Ella is getting more nervous.
Mika seemed to notice her fear, so she started asking her more details about their relationship. “He won’t let me out of sight as he is scared I might say something. I just met him in a dating app you see. It was stupid stupid stupid, God I am stupid.”
Ella shushed her and looking her in the eye, she whispered, “You are a victim, Mika. This is not your fault.”
Mika nodded, and with a croaking voice, shared her thoughts.
“I was able to convince him if we can go to an OB for contraceptives as I might get pregnant. It was my last resort as my phone is with him. He is a psycho and wanted to lock me in because he doesn’t want me to leave the house like ever.”
“So why did he say yes to your request?”
“I don’t know why though. I just feigned that I love him back. I told him I enjoyed everything he is doing to me. I said I will never leave him. He seems obsessed with the idea of somebody loving him back. Eventually, when I didn’t cry after he beats me till I bleed, he perked up and started to believe my words.”
“My God, that is sick.”
“I was his prisoner over the weekend! I am living on my own in the city and those are my days off. There is no way that my colleagues or my family would notice that I was gone. I went out to dinner with him on Friday. Must’ve spiked my drink while I went to the restroom because the next thing I know, I was at his house, my wrists and ankles chained,” Mika shuddered, shaking her head in disbelief as the mere memory of the experience is giving her nightmares in broad daylight.
Doctor Linda sounds like she is having a mild argument with the man. Every now and then, Pauline’s voice would butt in. ‘What is her plan I wonder, why did she let him in here,’ she looked at the wall clock. ‘For heaven’s sake, where’s security?’
“Look, Mika, we are just waiting for the cops, okay, and my Aunt is doing her best to stall,” Ella whispered. “But I believe we can have him arrested right here, your bruises are evidence enough.”
“Stupid app,” Mika sobbed. “But thank you. I sincerely appreciate women like you, who without hesitations, would act to help instead of being numbed by fear. Your paper saved me.”
Ella squeezed her hand. “We look out for each other. You are safe here.”
Then suddenly, they heard the most horrifying, heart-stopping sound that would definitely haunt them for the rest of their lives.
A gunshot. Just a few feet outside the curtains that they were hiding from.
A soft thud followed as the weight of a body hits the floor. Pauline screamed hysterically.
And so they wait, wondering what would happen next, the ringing in their ears brought about by the gunshot loud enough to freeze them with the realization that maybe, they don’t want to see what’s behind the curtain at all.